The following reflection was shared at the August 26, 2012 worship service at Chalice Unitarian Universalist Congregation.
In April of this year, I drove 80 miles one Saturday in order to ride a roller coaster. With me were two friends, two fellow hospital chaplains, and we had completed together seven months of full-time hospital chaplaincy. Working as a hospital chaplain is hard work, and we were tired, soul tired. We had invited four other chaplains to come with us, but the others were too tired even to make time on a Saturday for an outing.
One of the friends with me had NEVER ridden a roller coaster, which is why we were determined to do this. We wanted her to have the experience. We weren’t really thinking that riding the roller coaster that day was going to change our lives.
It’s hard to describe what happened to us on that roller coaster. We screamed with laughter. The sun shone on our skin, the wind whipped through our hair, and it was as if all the sorrow of the previous seven months SHOOK out of us. In less than two minutes on that roller coaster, it was like we were taken apart and then reassembled, fresher, sharper, happier, better. I have to say it: we were re-born.
We were changed when we returned to work on Monday. Our spirits were lighter. We had found joy again. In a year of joyous and life-changing events, the roller coaster remains one of the best.
The spirit needs play.
Dr. Stuart Brown is a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, and a clinical researcher, and he’s written a book about the importance of play in our lives. He believes that we have a biological impulse to play—an impulse that can be found in animal species as well—and that play keeps us intellectually and emotionally growing, resilient, and strong. Creative. Invigorated. Imaginative. Play enhances learning, social functioning, memory, and self control.
Brown defines play as a state of mind more than it is an activity. It’s a state of mind more than it is an activity. Brown says that play is an “absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides employment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time. It is also self-motivating and makes you want to do it again.”
At our best, I hope that worship might sometimes meet this definition of play. “Absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides employment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time. It is also self-motivating and makes you want to do it again.” That’s my aspiration for us.
And it’s my hope that our monthly mutligenerational worship services will give us more ways of playing together. More movement. More imagination. More opportunities to create together. More ritual. More story.
The spirit needs play.